Monthly Archives: April 2014

Rungus and Congas

Hard to believe it has been almost 2 weeks since our last post.  Daily life has a way of sneaking up on us.  We still have several more posts about our trip. Here is the next one:

March 13


Rungus and Congas – Another Alternative Income Project

Because it was pouring, we skipped the early morning walk and lazed around in bed until 8am.  What a treat!  We love the morning walks with Wilson or Jackson, but it felt good to be lazy, if only briefly.


We had breakfast at 8:30 and then returned to Mama Jane’s community of Emori Joi to see another one of Free the Children’s Alternative Income Projects.  They have a group making Rungus and Congas. It is quite an extensive process that takes about two weeks to complete.


Congas are a traditional Maasai weapon, best described as a “club.” They are are also called “Rungus” The Maasai use them to fend off wild animals when protecting their livestock, and of course, their homestead.  They can also be used to help kill a lion if necessary!

A Rungu is also a beaded wooden baton used by respected village elders in community gatherings and meetings. Representing status and authority, only the person holding the Rungu is given a voice.

To make a Conga or Rungu, first the men search for the perfect piece of wood, either white bush or red olive. Then the form is carved out of the wood with a machete. This job is only done by men. It takes a lot of skill and is quite dangerous.  All other steps can be done by men or women.

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It is then passed to the next group who file it down, further developing its shape.

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In the past, all of these steps would only be done by men, but with recent changes in attitude, women and men are working together as part of alternative income projects.

Once the form is determined, it goes though two other smoothing stages. First a piece of broken glass, usually from broken pop bottles, is used to make the wood smooth.

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Next, the wood is further smoothed with leaves from a sandpaper bush.

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Petroleum jelly is rubbed into the finished product to prevent cracking. Of course, with the drastic weather changes here, some of our rungus cracked after we got home. Next time we will regularly oil them when we get them home as well – lesson learned!


We were able to try each of the stages except for the machete stage. When the Rungus and Congas are finished, they are sent to one of the beading communities for embellishment. The finished products are beautiful.

Me to We purchases all of the Rungus and Congas made in Emori Joi and they are sold online and in their stores throughout the world. It has made a huge difference to the quality of life in the community.

The boys decided Koren needed a Rungu to help run the house.  Will they listen any better? Doubtful, but she was honoured to have it nonetheless. Even if the boys don’t always listen to the Rungu, we are helping support a wonderful community of hard working people.

While we were watching the process of Rungu Making and trying it out, the Elders of the Community also told us about men’s groups that were started in the community.  A program called VSLA (Village Savings And Loans Association) had been started.

Members of the community contribute to a central pot from which loans are given out.  Everyone buys as many shares as they can afford, and then each take turns borrowing money and then paying back with interest. The rates are set by each individual community to fit their unique financial situation.

At the end of the year, all the interest that accumulates over the course of the year is divided between community members, according to the number of shares held. This microfinancing, coming from the community itself, has gone a long way to help stabilize the community, and improve their overall quality of life.  VSLAs have been used all over the developing world with much success.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Emori Joi, and were so impressed by the difference Free the Children is making in their community on so many different levels.

Here are a few more pics of Emori Joi:

Traditional medical treatment for cuts

Traditional medical treatment for cuts

Use of local plants to treat cuts

Use of local plants to treat cuts

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posted by Aubrey and Koren


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March 13



It seems the rainy season was finally starting.  Everyone was pretty excited. Rain is a pretty big deal in Kenya.  We were a bit worried that the downpour would postpone our trip to Osenetoi, but thankfully, the roads were still good enough for us to go.  When planning this visit to Kenya, one certain goal was to make the special trip to see the school and community for which we had been fundraising for. It took about two hours to get there, over a washed-out river and over a lot of rough roads. We travelled through Kipsigi and Kiisi communities (the other two local tribes with more agricultural traditions) until we reached Maasai territory (mostly nomadic hunter gatherers) Here are some photos from the road:


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The school in Osenetoi truly seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by freshly planted wheat fields not yet started to sprout. The involvement of Free the Children (FTC) here is fairly recent, so not all of the buildings have been rebuilt, and the old kindergarten wooden classroom is still used for storage. IMG_2233

As we approached, most of the students were waiting outside for us in the strong wind.  We drove directly into the schoolside camp where a high school FTC group was staying.  They were in the main tent, finishing up a leadership session. We were very impressed by these kids from Toronto and Renfrew, Ontario; they had been working hard, hand-digging trenches for the foundation of a new classroom building.


We introduced ourselves to each other and then headed over for a celebration with the students and staff of Osenetoi Primary School.  There were two lines of people singing and dancing for us to walk through. We made our way to a row of chairs and we sat in the seats of honour as the Deputy Head teacher welcomed us and thanked us for supporting them and visiting. After a few more welcome speeches, we watched the students perform some traditional songs and dances.  It was incredible. The Mamas also presented us with handmade beaded necklaces and bracelets while singing and dancing. Numerous times, we were all pulled up to join in the dancing. It was pure joy.

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After the students finished their presentations, the high school group got up and sang a couple of songs, including Bob Marley’s “One Love” and “Wake me Up” by Avicii. This also ended in a big dance party. After being put on the spot at Kisaruni, we were prepared for a possible performance this time.  At lunch before we left, we decided to sing “All I really need” by Raffi, if the opportunity arose.  Hooray for thinking ahead!  


We started this family project seven years ago, and learned the name “Osenetoi” about two years ago. To finally be here, with all of our boys was really an experience we will never forget.  This was a very emotional part of the trip. Teva was quite overwhelmed by all of the attention, but each of the other three boys patiently allowed himself to be swarmed and gently manhandled.  It was certainly somewhat claustrophobic, even out in the open field, being touched so much by so many children! For Aubrey, having a terrified Teva on his shoulders helped to deflect some of the attention.  

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 The boys fielded endless and repetitive questions (“How old are you? What grade are you in? What is your name?”), and were very happy to play an impromptu football game and hang out with the kids from the school.


The students were very proud of their classrooms, leading tours through each stand-alone classroom and the rest of the grounds.


In these moments, it seems our boys understood why we were here. They felt appreciated and a bit proud of what they had contributed to. Our boys were so impressed at how genuinely happy the kids were just to spend time with them and be close to them.  It seemed that, perhaps for the first time, they realized what a gift education is. We were all on a bit of a high when we left, and were sad to leave. Hopefully, one day we will make it back to see how much the school has developed, and continue to see the impact of FTC on the community.

posted by Aubrey and Koren

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Baraka Health Centre

March 12

Our tour of the area during this trip had already exposed us to the pillars of education, water source and security, and alternative income sources to empower women and men.  Only the health care pillar and agriculture and food security remained.

Today,  toured the Baraka Health Centre, built by Free the Children to provide free open access to health care. Baraka in Swahili means “blessing” (derived from Arabic). The clinic certainly seems to be a blessing for the community.


Built much like other African medical clinics or hospitals, the floors are red and the hallways are outdoors. The walls are white and the furniture is sparse. One difference here is the plethora of inspirational Kenyan and Free the Children quotes and murals covering the walls. From registration to trauma/treatment to the paediatric and immunization clinic to the obstetrics ward, the mood is upbeat.

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Also, the clinic is very clean and the gardens well-kept and even medicinal. Even though there is no surgery or in-patients here (yet), they have an ambulance! It gets used about once daily, mostly for motorcycle crashes, since the roads are awful and no one wears a helmet, whether driving or one of up to two passengers.


Circumcision of males has at least half moved to the clinic, from the community, providing more sanitary conditions for the procedure. We did not meet the physician assistant working, as he was with a patient, so unfortunately we could not exchange circumcision tips.

We did have a great tour led by the nurse who manages the clinic. He seems insightful and flexible to the needs of the community. All of the staff are very friendly, but we were especially impressed with his approach to managing the clinic and working with the community to improve health. Due to the elevation in this area, over 5000 feet, malaria cases only come from away. HIV is not very prevalent, but their clinic is growing. The immunization clinic is growing as the community begins to embrace the benefits of obstetrics.


 Just over a year ago, Baraka began to do deliveries. Already, half of the babies born in the community surrounding the clinic are born in the clinic, which amounts to about fifteen monthly. Medications for labour include oral pain medication or an injection of an anti-inflammatory. Women are able to stay for observation for 1-2 days, but almost all go home within twelve hours. Certainly having your baby in the clinic means someone else cleans up the mess!

The only cost for patients is medications and labs, mostly to get a commitment from the patient to take the medications prescribed. Even in Kenya, patients don’t take their medications! Patients pay for tests, to recoup expensive costs, but HIV tests are done on everyone for free, and obstetrics are also free, in order to help compliance and to produce healthy babies.

A lot of the health improvements occurred back in people’s huts through education.  Eight specific improvements were implemented: chimneys by the kitchen fires to allow venting and better breathing; a dug-out latrine for each home to contain human wastes; Clean water for drinking as well as soap for hand washing after latrine use; clotheslines to stop bugs from infesting clothes; dishwashing racks outside the home to keep kitchen waste outside and control disease; pens for animals outside the home to control disease; small enclosed areas to allow daytime showers; compost piles separated from burned garbage; home gardens to save money. These interventions greatly reduced cholera and typhoid in the community.  This is a mural in the clinic, illustrating the eight points of education, to ensure a healthy home.


Overall, it seems there is a transformation occurring in this community, amongst the various tribes. Health and standard of living are slowly improving, with the implementation of the five pillars promoted by Free the Children, while efforts are made to maintain elements of the unique culture of each tribe.

After we spent the afternoon working further at the Kisaruni Girls High School build site, we reconvened by the fire to hear stories from Wilson and Jackson. Next post we will share what we learned from them about the Maasai culture.

posted by Aubrey




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Kisaruni Girls High School

March 11, continued…

After lunch, we headed to the Kisaruni Girls High School. What an inspiring place!  We have never seen young people so motivated to learn.  They get up at 4:30am everyday to pack in as much learning as possible. When the school was started three years ago, the students were given a chance to set their own schedule.  The girls initially wanted to get up at 3:30am, only allotting themselves 4.5 hours sleep! The teachers stepped in and they compromised on 4:30am wake-up, made bedtime earlier, and settled on 6.5 hours of sleep.

Their curriculum is diverse and demanding. There is a wonderful supportive community, and the girls’ excitement is infectious. This year, the first grade 12 class is graduating.  Everyone is so excited for this momentous occasion, which will be the first measure of the success of this school concept. These girls are very aware of the special opportunity they have been given to learn and succeed and move beyond their lives of poverty.  The school fees are provided by scholarships.

 Elementary school in Kenya was made both mandatory and free after the 2002 election.  President Mwai Kibaki announced this in the newspaper plan on a Friday. Although a huge step forward for the education of boys and girls, there had been no warning or planning. Schools were overwhelmed with new pupils, 1 million new students showed up to school on Monday morning and no one was prepared. Mandatory and free still did not mean all could afford to attend. We already discussed the importance of the girls in carrying water for their families, but school uniforms also cost money. Even after more barriers were removed and most children made it to elementary school, high school was still not free. Only the better students, and those who could afford it, could attend high school. High schools were generally only for boys.

The Kisaruni Girls High School is a boarding school built by Free the Children (FTC). None of the girls would have attended high school without FTC. Acceptance is extremely competitive, and scholarships for all students are provided through donations to Free the Children. The girls work very hard because high school is their first hurdle. None can afford to pay for university or college education. And so they must do very well, in order to earn scholarships to pay for post-secondary programs and fulfil their life dreams.

The parallels to the lives of Wilson and Jackson were also interesting, as the change to mandatory schooling brought them from the Maasai Mara to government schools. They also had to find financing and work hard to get to high school and then university to become the leaders they are today.

Our first stop at Kisaruni was the building site. Our task was to help build a new teacher’s accommodation building.  We were oriented to our tasks.  We had to carry stones, mix mortar, and start building a wall.  Everyone worked hard.  It was amazing to see how quickly our boys learned their jobs, even Teva (our 4.5 year-old). 

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When we finished building for the day, we were given a tour of the school compound by three enthusiastic and articulate students. The school has bright clean classrooms, dormitories, teacher accommodations, a library, art room, guidance room, and chemistry, biology and computer labs. There are inspirational quotes and murals painted on the walls.  Everything is well designed to create a nurturing learning environment.  The place was humming with positive energy.

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After, we were directed to the cafeteria. We walked into a lot of clapping and cheering. Thinking we had interrupted something, we hung around the door, until we realized they were clapping and cheering for us!


The girls performed for us with song and dance and then invited us to perform with them and then alone.  We were caught completely off guard. We got up on the stage, addressed the teens briefly and then chose to sing a Hebrew Song to a Zimbabwean tune from our last trip to Africa.  A good way to get the adrenalin pumping!


After our impromptu performance, we had tea, snacks and conversation with the girls.  They were all ambitious, hopeful, positive, and delightful.  Three girls at Aubrey’s table want to be neurosurgeons! Many others aspired to be lawyers, nurses, accountants, and teachers. We can’t wait to see where they are in ten years.

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At the end of the day, we celebrated Noam’s birthday with the staff.  Although people do not generally celebrate birthdays in Kenya, the staff at Bogani helped Noam feel special.  All the staff sang and danced for him and then did this great ritual where the birthday person has to cut the cake into as many pieces as possible, as quickly as possible, during the song.  It was a bit of a calculated frenzy.   Another fantastic day!

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Next post…Baraka Health Clinic




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